astrology

Yesterday, I turned 27. (Yay!) As often happens for me around this time of year, I find myself contemplating the rabbit hole of astrology. I’ve never fully understood how the positions of planets and stars on my birthdate could dictate my personality and predict my future. How can the sun decide whether or not I’ll be cautious or free spirited, or the constellation Virgo be able to tell whether I’ll be wealthy or impoverished?

There are so many questions I have concerning the validity of this commonly accepted belief system. I call it a belief system because I don’t find it too different from a religion. Astrology has even been referred to as the original religion, as the roots of many of today’s faiths can be traced back to it. Astrology and Christianity, for example, are both based in astronomy; that is, they are both personified interpretations of the cosmos. (For a more in-depth understanding of the astrological origins of religion, watch this excerpt from the documentary “Zeitgeist”—I highly recommend watching the entire film, but if nothing else, watch this snippet.) Do I believe in astrology? No, I can’t say that I do. I can’t say I know for sure it’s all false, either. Being so prevalent throughout the history of mankind, I want to think that there must be something to it. I’m just not sold yet.

I actually think the idea of astrology is a really cool one. There’s something beautiful in the theory that the way the planets and stars were aligned when I took my first breath in this world can tell me something about my temperament and my future. I like the notion that believing in astrology might help us to self-accept more, which would lead to the acceptance of others. Then there’d be more empathy and love in the world, right? Believing in astrology would make dating a lot easier, too, because I, as an Aquarius, could simply narrow down all potential romantic partners to those with air and fire signs. Specifically, the signs of Gemini, Sagittarius, Libra, and Aries. But then, as my astrology junkie friends are quick to point out, we’d have to get into the complexities of the other signs in my chart—Aquarius is just my sun sign. Apparently we all have moon signs, Venus signs, Mercury signs, and more. (Since I know you’re dying to find out what your other signs are and what they correspond to, visit Astrolabe, where I got my free natal chart.) I’m no astronomer, so I can’t describe in detail all the scientific reasoning that holds me back from believing in astrology. There are plenty of studies and experiments out there, both for and against this ancient practice, that I’ve read and encourage you to read if you want more “proof”. What I can share with you here, however, are my personal observations. I observe more reasons not to believe in astrology than to believe in it.

As I said, I’m an Aquarius. Since it has word ‘aqua’ in it, and since its symbol is the water bearer, until a few years ago I thought that Aquarius was a water sign. It’s actually an air sign, a fixed air sign, ruled by both Uranus, the planet of change and revolution, and Saturn, the planet of authority and responsibility. Like many people, I’ve read the various breakdowns of my sun sign. Though there are slight variations from source to source, most descriptions of an Aquarius I’ve read seem to have a few key things in common. On the pro-side of things, we are supposedly humanitarian, independent, eccentric, funny, and intelligent. On the con-side, we can be aloof, stubborn, detached, and rebellious, though personally, I find these traits debatably pro (how Aquarian of me). All breakdowns agree that the Aquarius woman is not easily tied down, which I must admit I can personally attest to. Maybe it is because of the sun’s position when I was born; or, maybe it’s because I have commitment issues. No matter what description I’ve read, I’ve always felt that it was only around 50% true for me. Read the traits of Aquarius again, both the pros and cons. Regardless of what your sun sign is, can’t you find truth in the Aquarius description that would apply to you? Who would say that they’re not independent? I’ve never met anyone who says, “I’m a really dependent person.” Who would say that they’re inhumanitarian, boring, normal, dumb, and submissive? Well, maybe there are a few of you out there who would claim those. I haven’t met you. My point is that I find as much truth as untruth for all of us in every sign’s breakdown.

Since sign comparing seems to be a frequent social bonding ritual, at least in my circles, I’ve dabbled mildly in astrology for popular culture’s sake. In the past few years especially, it seemed like my life was suddenly full of people who are super into it, so I thought I’d better take the time to learn about this zodiac business. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a bit of my own curiosity in there, too, but I never would have learned that Aquarius is an air sign if I hadn’t been motivated to simply keep up with conversation. No one likes to be stuck in a discussion they know nothing about, and it doesn’t hurt to keep informed on what’s currently popular (hence why I’ve also watched an episode of a Kardashian show and purchased “Fifty Shades of Grey”). When conversations turn to astrology, I can now understand what a person means when they say, “Oh that’s why we get along—I’m a Libra!”

Or, “Don’t ever date a Pisces—they’re so bipolar!”

I can even attempt witty replies! “Not as bipolar as Gemini men!” Har har.

But I’m still that girl at the dinner table who will ask, “Come on, do you really believe this stuff?” There are many people in my life, most of whom I respect as sound individuals, who do. Why not? At worst, they say, it’s just a fun game. At best, it’s the key to predicting your future, the comforting salve to the anxiety of life’s unpredictabilities, mapping out all of your successes and struggles in the ancient light of the stars. But I have some why-nots that, no matter how much I might want to believe in astrology, give me pause.

My main beef with astrology is this: horoscopes. Astrologers claim that with only three pieces of information from you—your birthdate, place of birth, and the local time when you were born—they can read your natal chart and find out not only your predisposed temperaments, but also everything from what your past lives were to how many children you’ll have in this life. The details are both vague and specific. What makes these horoscopes even more confusing to me are all the discrepancies between believers over the legitimacy of the various astrologers who write them. One person’s professional astrologer is another person’s quack psychic.

I was in a deep conversation with a friend of mine about his chart when I realized what debunked astrological horoscopes completely for me: they don’t apply to twins. Or triplets or octuplets for that matter. My understanding is that natal chart readings are based off of only three pieces of information—again, your birth date, place of birth, and the local time where you were born. With these three facts exclusively, an astrologer can claim to be able to see your past, present, and future. So let’s apply that to a hypothetical horoscope reading. Sam is nineteen. His college roommate convinced him to get his natal chart read by an astrologer he swears is legitimate. Sam, an open-minded guy, agreed, and this is a summary of what the astrologer had to say about his chart…

You are athletically gifted, and your career will take you into a competitive field revolving around a physical sport. You have an especial fondness for food. You will marry a woman who will be a fire sign, either a Sagittarius or a Leo, and you’ll meet her through your job. You should avoid heights whenever possible, because in your last life you accrued bad karma with heights. You and your wife may have difficulty trying to conceive, but don’t worry because a solution will be found by your mid-thirties. You will make a major career change in your early forties, moving into a job where you will teach something. You are adored by friends for your good humor and easy-going personality, treasured by your family as a responsible provider and a thoughtful romantic, and though you won’t amass great amounts of wealth, you’ll live the majority of your life comfortably in the eastern part of North America.

While most of the horoscope remains to be proven true, Sam has already shown a talent in football. In fact, he got into his dream college on a football scholarship. He does have a particular fondness for food, now that he thinks about it, and wouldn’t you know it—he’s scared of heights! He’s dated a Capricorn and a Scorpio in the past, but now he thinks he’s going to give a Sagittarius or Leo woman a try.

Now say Sam has a twin brother, Michael. Like many twins, Michael and Sam don’t share many similarities beyond their looks. Michael was not born athletically gifted. Athletically cursed would be more like it, although he does show a natural affinity for architecture and design. Where Sam was always the sunny, compliant kid, Michael was the proverbial problem child who constantly challenged authority figures and struggled to be what schools call “a team player”. He’s currently backpacking through Europe for an indefinite number of months as he figures out where he wants to go to college and what he wants to do with his life. Michael is described as irresponsible, aimless, and too smart for his own good. He certainly has no inclination to get a horoscope reading done, but if he did… Oh, wait. It would be the same as Sam’s. Their mother had to have an emergency cesarean section during her difficult labor, and as a result, both Sam and Michael’s birth certificates state that they were born on April 2nd, 1993 at 2:20AM in Trenton, New Jersey. As far as astrology is concerned, it doesn’t matter who was lifted out of the womb first, if they’re identical twins or fraternal, or how many seconds into the minute of 2:20AM they took their first gasps of air. All the astrologer wants to know is the date, hour and minute, and the place.

How can I believe in astrological horoscopes based off of those three pieces of information? If they were any legitimacy to them, wouldn’t twins have the exact same lives, the exact same tendencies, careers, financial statuses, marriages, numbers of children, health problems, phobias, and temperaments? Sure, there have been studies done of twins who were raised separately and who turned out remarkably similar to one another. Still other studies show examples of twins who couldn’t be more different, raised together or separately.

Let’s forget about multiple birth children for a moment. What about children who are born at the same time, same city, same date, but from separate mothers? If you were born in New York, New York on October 15th, 1987 at 10:46AM, you’d have the same natal chart as all the other babies who were born in various New York City hospitals at that time. Does that mean all of you will have identical pasts, presents, and futures?

What about the more generic monthly horoscopes that cater to your sun sign alone? You know, the ones found in the backs of magazines, or even the more “legit” monthly forecasts you can find on the websites of famous professional astrologers. These may not get into your detailed, lifelong future, but they give an outline of what to expect for members of your sign in that month. They say things like, “On the 23rd, when Mercury retrogrades, there may be more accidents than usual. Take care to complete all financial matters before then, or else you might find yourself unexpectedly parting with hard-earned money.” They give generalized love advice, such as, “Venus is in your sign this month, so if you’re single, you might meet that special somebody you’ve been waiting for; if you’re attached, the 12th is a good day to do something special with your sweetheart, since Jupiter moves into your house of passion and romance.” I find all of these monthly forecasts to be calculatingly vague, not to mention hardly ever true for me. I might lose money unexpectedly during any given month. I might meet that special someone on any day, regardless of where Venus is.

When debating astrology’s credibility, the manmade-ness of clock time also needs to be considered. Say you’re born at 11:59PM on August 21st. That would make you a Leo, and supposedly you’d have the Leo traits of being loyal, generous, confident, regal, and melodramatic. But what if the watch belonging to the the person who signed your birth certificate said it was 12:01AM on August 22nd where you were born? According to that time, you’re really a Virgo and should therefore possess the traits of being analytical, reliable, logical, prudish, and helpful. You’d never know your were actually supposed to be reading the monthly forecast for Leo. Astrologers would say that you’re a cusp baby, meaning you were born on the cusp of both Leo and Virgo. So should you then read both signs’ monthly forecasts if you want to follow along with astrology? Should you just guess which sign’s advice to follow regarding the day you should be on the lookout for that new job opportunity?

I know, of course, that not everyone who believes in astrology also believes in the predictability of horoscopes. While some do, others stick to a more basic interpretation of their natal charts, ones that don’t tell the future but simply describe their personality tendencies in various areas of their life. For instance, my chart says that when I was born, the moon was in the sign of Capricorn. This apparently means that my emotions will be on the more cautious side of things, that I need a lot of affirmation to have a healthy self-esteem, and that I value “practical needs over emotional considerations”. It doesn’t predict my future in any specific ways; it just states my predisposition in the area of my emotions. Is this true for me? Meh. When it comes to emotions, I do err on the side of caution and seriousness, but I don’t need anyone’s affirmation to build my own self-esteem. I’m not worried about being a failure, which is typical of the Capricorn, because I don’t see life in terms of failure and success. But maybe that’s just my Aquarian detachedness overriding any Capricorn materialism. Or maybe it’s just me, having nothing to do with astrology at all.

Another drawback I’ve found with astrology, horoscopes aside, is that I find it promotes separatism. When I was getting really into it, educating myself on all the signs, the elements they corresponded to, and the personality traits each has, I found that I was becoming a much more judgmental person. I was becoming someone who would ask you your birthday within hours of knowing you, and, based off of your answer, I’d decide how I felt about you. If you said you were a Taurus, a part of my brain thought, Oh so this person’s materialistic, stubborn, and kind of dumb, not worth investing any more time in. How horrid of me! And if you said you were a Sagittarius, I’d think, Yay! There’s a lot of Sag in my chart, so we’ll probably get along ‘cause we both like philosophy and travel! Equally presumptuous and narrow-minded. Others have done this to me, too. A guy who liked me—and who I liked back, at least for a minute—stopped liking me when he found out I was an Aquarius. Apparently that’s a bad match to his Pisces. Never mind that we both liked to read the same kind of books, that we both loved to camp, or that we both had fun together. Air and Water do not mix, he said. Which I found odd, because four out of six of my closest friends are Pisces and Cancers. Which might be odd in and of itself. I chalk it up to temporary coincidence.

If there is any concrete legitimacy to astrology, I have yet to be convinced of it. So far in my own personal experience and research, I’ve found just as much to be true as untrue, as accurate as inaccurate. When it comes to the horoscope aspect, I’m definitely not a believer. The twin theory blows it all out of the water for me. As far as the non-horoscope elements of astrology go, the personality traits etc., I find they serve to stroke the ego (“I’m a Scorpio, so of course I’m good in bed!”), to excuse bad behavior (“I’m a Leo, so it’s my right to be entitled and demanding!”), and to alienate people from each other (“She’s a Gemini, so she probably wouldn’t fit in.”). It makes people too judgmental, both of themselves and others. When someone finds out I’m an Aquarius, I don’t want them to assume that I’m going to be a funny extrovert with a hippy wardrobe and innovative solutions for every problem. I’ll only disappoint. I even disappointed myself trying to live up to the descriptions of an Aquarius woman, trying to be more clever, more intelligent, more humanitarian. I’m just me, a perpetually evolving person who likes warm weather, road trips, and cats. And I don’t believe that Sagittarius being on my fifth house cusp has anything to with it.